Some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017

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One of the things that always stands out to me about year-end ‘best of’ lists is that there are usually quite a few shows that, for whatever reason, I never got the chance to see. What’s nice about that, of course, is that those lists become a set of recommendations for me to work through for the next few months.

But it did get me thinking, though – how about a list specifically to that end? Here are the shows, then, that you might have missed; ones that flew under the radar a little bit, either because of the channel they were on, the language they’re in, or the time of year they came out.

It’s obviously an incomplete list – how could it not be? – but here’s some of the best TV you might have missed in 2017…

The State

The State Channel 4 isis peter kosminsky national geographic Ony Uhiara Sam Otto Shavani Cameron Ryan McKen.jpg

The State took on a controversial and difficult subject matter in a sensitive way – but more than that, it did it at exactly the right time too. A nuanced and considered look at how people are radicalised, it was a compelling drama that drew on extensive research of real-life cases. Intense and emotional, The State explored nuanced storytelling in place of simplistic thinking – always willing to challenge audience’s preconceptions and prejudices, this was a stark and powerful drama.

Clique

Clique BBC Three bryan elsley jess brittain louise brealey synnove karlsen aisling francoisi

The first episode of Clique was a particularly tense and taut hour of television, crafted with a real precision; it was one of the most effective pieces of drama BBC Three produced in a long time. With an unrelenting intensity, gradually probing the darker aspects of the world it put forward, Clique was an effortlessly self-assured piece of television. Certainly, it’s the sort of programme that might be easy to dismiss at face value; yet another teen drama without a huge amount to offer on its own terms. But to think of it that way it to do a real disservice to the intricate, nuanced work that was going on beneath the surface – there’s a real feeling, watching Clique, that it exists in a world that goes above and beyond the young adult drama you’ve seen before.

Ronny Chieng: International Student

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It’d be easy to miss this one – a BBC Three acquisition that was only broadcast on BBC One very late at night – but it’d be a real shame if you did. Ronny Chieng: International Student has a certain charm that you could liken to Community, perhaps, but it’s very much its own show. Witty and inventive, this series draws on the real-life university experiences of its star Ronny Chieng – the perfect straight man for his increasingly absurd surroundings. In a year with a lot of great new comedies, this is the sort of show that might not get the attention it deserves – but it is genuinely, properly funny.

Snowfall

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Part of what I like about Snowfall is that it’s slow. Not in terms of pacing, not exactly; rather, it takes a measured approach, one that really lets it dwell on the period and pay close attention to detail. In that sense, Snowfall stands out because of how well it’s able to evoke a feel for the crack epidemic in 1983 Los Angeles. It’s the perfect backdrop for a cast of characters making increasingly compromised decisions – with newcomer Damson Idris giving a standout performance, Snowfall is definitely a drama that’s worth a look.

Babylon Berlin

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Babylon Berlin is absolutely mesmerising. I said as much in my review of the show’s first season, but it really does bear repeating. The most expensive piece of television Germany has ever produced, every penny that went into Babylon Berlin translates to the screen – it’s a gorgeous drama, perfectly evoking the aesthetic of the 1920s. It’s also home of one of the best television moments of 2017 full stop – the almost trance-like conclusion to the second episode is breathtaking, exuding confidence and inspiring awe.

Ill Behaviour

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Ill Behaviour took an absurd premise, but elevated it into something more – a dark comedy that was also a genuinely affecting drama. With a wit as quick as it was dark, this wasn’t just gallows humour; it’s a programme about repression, denial, and the lengths people go to in extreme situations. As ever, it’s a show that works because of its characters – self-destructive and neurotic, and perfectly pitched by the cast, each have a real and meaningful character arc. Ill Behaviour is packed with laughs, but it also leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll.

The End of the F***ing World

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One of my personal favourite programmes of the year – I know that’s true of a lot of the shows on this list, but it’s particularly true of this. The End of the F***ing World is an elegant character study, focused on two isolated teenagers who live in liminal spaces; it lends its two leads, James and Alyssa, a real interiority, serving to emphasise the poignancy – and in some ways the tragedy – of the journey they undertake. Of course, it’d be remiss of me not to mention Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden, who really do make the series; an absolutely magnetic pairing, they’re fantastic actors who really embody the facades, neuroses and vulnerabilities of their characters.

Even then, of course, there are a lot of shows I’ve missed off this list that, if it could go on forever, I’d have loved to include – Guerilla, Overshadowed, or King Charles III, to name just a few. And that’s without mentioning all the excellent shows that, for one reason or another, I didn’t get the chance to see – shows like Three Girls, The Replacement or Bancroft.

If nothing else, that was one good thing about 2017 – there was a lot of really fantastic television.

Note: This was meant to be a Yahoo article which, for boring technical reasons I can’t work out, doesn’t actually display on the website anywhere – so I’ve put it here instead. Looking back on some of my choices, there’s a couple I probably would’ve changed – the fact that both The End of the F***ing World and Babylon Berlin took off massively in early 2018 because they turned up on American Netflix was validating, but does make me wish I’d taken the chance to stump for Overshadowed, which I really do love.

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Black Mirror’s USS Callister is a perfect metaphor for nerd culture in 2017

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The escapist fantasy is based on a slavish adherence to the idiosyncrasies of the original, yes – but, crucially, an unthinking and uncritical adherence, without acknowledgement of the flaws inherent to the premise. It’s the same fundamental mentality that prompts outrage and fury at the inclusion of women or people of colour in Star Trek, Star Wars, or Doctor Who; the impulse to curate rather than create, the desire to maintain a static and staid world. Shaped around the ego of a single white man, this is of course a world that equates foreign with alien, dehumanises people of colour, and never lives up the ethos and code of conduct it claims to assert.

USS Callister continues to advance its metaphor, though, and in turn posits a solution of its own. And, in turn, of course said solution comes from a woman.

A piece about Black Mirror I was quite pleased with. (So pleased with it, in fact, I put it into my portfolio, if that’s something you’re going to want to check out.)

Something I didn’t mention at the time, but find interesting, is the fact that this episode is about exorcising toxic masculinity, and then the subsequent five episodes are all very female-oriented. You can see how the order of the anthology shapes the broader meaning of the series, which is neat.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of Damned doctor who review russell t davies james strong title sequence titanic david tennant kylie minogue

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am 903 years old and I’m the man who’s gonna save your lives, and all six billion people on the planet below.

Yes, it’s a Christmas special review – but probably not the one you were expecting.

Long-ish term readers, of which I’m sure I have at least three, will probably remember this on and off series of retrospectives where I look back on and review whatever David Tennant was up to a decade ago. It is largely but not exclusively filtered through the lens of my own personal recollections – i.e. that of a small child who was only vaguely aware of who Kylie actually was and really wished that everyone would just stop talking during Doctor Who, though I suppose that’s really not all that different to me today.

The three of you who have been following this for a while probably have also noticed that I never quite got around to posting my full season retrospective on Series 3; a combination of procrastination, nominally important exams, and near-catastrophic computer failure meant that those kept getting postponed to the point that it never quite materialised. Currently, the plan is to write that up – or finish writing it up, half the document still exists somewhere I believe – between now and April, which I believe is when I’ll start reviewing series 4 (I’m not entirely clear on the dates off the top of my head).

And, of course, for those of you who are more interested in the more pressing and current issue of the day – Twice Upon a Time, ahh! – I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get something written about that in the next few days. More likely than not it’ll be something of a commentary on the Twelfth Doctor’s era as a whole, rather than a straightforward review as such; I’m still hoping to do a series of reviews on all of Capaldi’s episodes between now and Jodie Whittaker’s first episode, so we’ll see how that all shakes out.

In any case, though, I suspect I’ve probably waffled on enough to fill up the wordcount. Let’s get onto Voyage of the Damned.

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A big part of these Tenth Doctor reviews has been a re-examination of the wider perception of an episode, and how that contrasts with my own memories of such. It’s not exactly a perfect process; a decade on, my memory of it all is usually fairly shake-y, and I didn’t exactly have massively sophisticated opinions beyond “It’s Doctor Who, of course I love it!” (some would contend that my opinions have not yet developed beyond this). There’s also the fact that, generally speaking, I tend to be comparing said opinions to standard fan myopia – the accepted rules that incorrectly state, for example, that Love & Monsters is rubbish.

Interestingly, though, this time there’s the opportunity to take a slightly different tack. Famously, this is the Doctor Who episode with the highest domestic viewing figures of all time; seen by 13.9 million viewers, you can make the case that this is probably the resounding impression of Tennant’s Doctor left across the country. It received pretty positive reviews overall (even if it did offend certain Christians and a survivor of the Titanic) and, per Wikipedia, received an “Appreciation Index rating of 86 (“excellent”), above the average score of 77 for drama programmes, and was the highest Index rating for any programme shown on terrestrial television on Christmas Day”. Just to contextualise that in terms of the rest of the show, that’s better than Father’s Day, equal to The Eleventh Hour, and just shy of Journey’s End. Now, the numbers shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value on their own, but it’s worth remembering that on release the episode got largely rave reviews from most mainstream outlets.

In short, then, this episode is largely beloved. Or, if not beloved, certainly it’s one which is generally held in quite high regard by quite a lot of people. And that certainly runs counter to the traditional fan belief that it’s a duff episode, doesn’t it?

All of which is to say that it’s worth finding something to love in this episode; after all, in amongst every episode you’re not so sure about there’s something that someone’s going to enjoy. Watching it back again today, I couldn’t help but think the opening was really nice, and very Doctor Who; a simple moment of enjoyment, where the Doctor just throws himself into it all with gleeful abandon, poking around and making friends and having fun. It felt like a nice reminder of what it’s (sort of) all about, in contrast to recent years where the focus has been a little more on the ‘Doctor of War’ (or even a contrast to distant years of the Time Lord Victorious!) than on this sort of thing.

Voyage of Damned doctor who review tenth doctor david tennant kylie minogue hosts walkway strut fight halo disaster movie

Granted, though… well, it’s not without flaws. Much as I enjoyed it back in the day – and, don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly entertaining now – and as much as I still think it’s worth highlighting what was good about it and what worked about it, there’s still a few noteworthy issues.

Part of the benefit of rewatching these episodes with a decade’s worth of hindsight is the new perspective – more specifically, though, the perspective of someone who pretends to be a professional television critic, and wants to pretend to be a professional television writer. Plus, it’s also that of someone who’s read a lot of books about Doctor Who, and the production of it – in this specific case, it’s having read The Writer’s Tale, and knowing about the difficulties Russell T Davies had writing this episode.

Davies was right, I think, to be concerned about the disaster movie format fighting with the Doctor Who format. The easiest flaw to point out is structural; where disaster movies tend to pick off the cast one by one, Voyage of the Damned more or less just disposes with a large chunk of them all in one lengthy set-piece. It doesn’t exactly work, dividing the episode into two slightly disjointed halves. On top of that, though, there’s the feeling that maybe none of it quite lands – that tonally, as it swings from tragedy to broad humour, the impact doesn’t always register. (And I don’t think that’s a rule, as such, rather that it just doesn’t quite work here.) Arguably, in a way, that makes it feel darker – as the loses aren’t quite acknowledged, the moments of levity feel out of place, leaving it all just a little bit grim. Part of the issue feels difficult to articulate exactly, because it’s not really one thing that’s wrong – rather, there’s lots of nice moments and fun details that don’t exactly add up to the potential sum of their parts. In the end, it doesn’t quite work as well as perhaps it could have.

But, I suppose, it returns to another little fact from The Writer’s Tale – an anecdote where a journalist describes Voyage of the Damned as being fun. They meant it dismissively, but you know what? It is fun. And there’s a place for that – especially at Christmas.

7/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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Riverdale Season 2: Five questions we have after the Christmas special

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It’s been an exciting nine weeks, but we’ve now reached the midseason finale of Riverdale. And as ever, we have some questions about the hit show. In fact, after a Christmas-themed episode that saw Jughead taking on Penny Peabody, Archie and Betty confronting the Black Hood, and Veronica learning the truth about her parents, as well as an exciting cliffhanger, we have more questions than ever. 

Here’s everything we need to know after Riverdale’s midseason finale, Chapter Twenty-Two: Silent Night, Deadly Night.

And a very Riverdale Christmas, to all of you at home.

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Everything you need to know about Feud: Bette and Joan

feud bette and joan everything you need to know ryan murphy susan sarandon

Feud: Bette and Joan is an eight part drama, focusing on the lives of Hollywood stars and bitter rivals Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. When Joan Crawford realises that Hollywood doesn’t offer any good acting roles for a woman her age, she starts to push for an adaptation of the novel What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? – looking for the part that will help her hang on to her stardom. 

For the project to succeed and get financial backing, though, she needs to convince her long-term rival and star in her own right Bette Davis to join the adaptation. The series covers their collaboration and disputes, as well as the challenges of working in 1960s Hollywood.

Here’s my article on Feud: Bette and Joan, starting soon on BBC Two. In the end, I never quite got around to watching Feud, which is a shame, since it looked quite good. Fun fact, though: Alfred Molina is the cousin of one of my old economics teachers! Isn’t that a fun fact? Said economics teacher was something of an actor himself, actually. He was in Age of UltronFlorence Foster Jenkins, Rogue One, Now You See Me, and Wonder Woman. And quite a few more actually, he was pretty prolific.

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Everything you need to know about The League of Gentlemen revival

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The League of Gentlemen, the hit comedy sketch show from the nineties, is coming back for Christmas.

They’ve returned on and off through the years, after the original series ended its run in 2002; this run of the infamous sketch show commemorates the 20th anniversary of the series, which began as a radio show in 1997. 

It’s set to be dark, strange and very funny too. Here’s everything you need to know about the return of cult comedy hit The League of Gentlemen.

Here’s a post on The League of Gentlemen, with everything you need to know about the show’s return. I didn’t watch it, despite a fondness for Mark Gatiss, because the only thing I know about it is that it’s pretty transphobic, and I am just not about that life.

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Everything you need to know about Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees

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Described as a ‘magical journey to uncover the mysteries of trees’, this is an hour-long special dedicated to Dame Judi Dench’s particular passion for trees. The documentary follows Judi Dench’s secret woodland over the course of a year, watching the transformation of the trees throughout the four seasons.

Judi Dench, it turns out, is very passionate about trees.

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Why Beryl is the standout episode of The Crown Season 2

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It comes back to a portrait – a metonym that the series used to great effect last year, in the widely acclaimed episode Assassins, framed around a lost portrait of Winston Churchill. Here, the series invokes the infamous pictures of Princess Margaret taken by Armstrong-Jones to similar effect.

There’s something ekphrastic about it, as the episode realises the shock and intimacy represented by the photos. More than that, in fact – it’s here that The Crown realises its initial promise, moreso than anywhere else. “No one wants complexity and reality from us,” declares the Queen Mother. But that’s what the photos represent, candid and intimate as they are – and what The Crown delivers for Margaret.

I really enjoyed The Crown series two, much moreso than the first – here’s an article on one of the standout episodes, about my favourite character.

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Director Mark Gill on his Morrissey biopic England is Mine, his creative influences, and more

england is mine jack lowden mark gill interview morrissey poster film biopic jodie cromer

We all present an idealised version of ourselves. It came from the fact that, I think I once heard Morrissey say, that he never performs on stage, he just is himself, and it’s the only time he can ever be himself. So, I wondered, does he mean that we never see Steven? I just feel that everybody presents a version of themselves, and I think with him it is just highlighted, because of his personality and then his status. 

I think, with anybody, anybody has that front. You see some of the most arrogant people you would probably meet in your life and probably underneath they are probably the most insecure. You often wonder, how do we all survive? We all try things out in our teens and I think he just found something that he was comfortable with and I think, his mum may have had something to do with that. She’s a very strong, perceptive woman.

I spoke with Mark Gill recently, about his new film England is Mine. I really enjoyed talking to this charming man.

Heaven knows, though, he… no, I don’t actually know enough Smiths songs to carry that on. Anyway, yeah, this was a neat interview. Probably the most notable question, mind you, is where I ask Mark why he thinks Morrissey is considered such a quintessential British figure – or, at least, quintessential to the point that’s how he’s described on his Wikipedia page – and Mark seems to think I’m asking why Morrissey is such a screaming racist these days. Mild awkwardness ensues.

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An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power directors Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk on the energy revolution, documentary making and more

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Al Gore and Participant Media, who made the first film, had been talking about a follow-up in the years after An Inconvenient Truth. And, I think, a number of things happened. One was that the story really has changed significantly in the last years, partly because of the cost down-curve of solar, wind, and other sustainable sources of energy has really become equal – if not lower – in many parts of the world to generate electricity that way. 

And so, that was a significant update to the story. When An Inconvenient Truth came out it was sort of a hopeful thing that solar and wind might someday help us solve the problem. But really, in 2015, when we started filming, that reality was really true and potentially… It had amazing potential for this revolution, this sustainability revolution.

My interview with Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (pictured above, mainly because I don’t have a good picture of them both together)! They directed An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth 2 Power. I am quite interested in what the possible third one might end up being called. Something about three energy?

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